Cancer treatments have never been skin-friendly. Chemotherapy and radiation often wreak havoc on your skin. Previously clear complexions, for example, can suffer from acne, painful and itchy rashes, and sometimes even infection—and not just on your face.
This is why it’s so important for people undergoing cancer treatment to choose the right skin care products to protect their skin. But without formal guidelines and regulations, it can be incredibly daunting for cancer patients to feel confident in their choice.
Chemotherapy drugs affect the cutaneous barrier function. This barrier is responsible for keeping out the bad—microbes, allergens, and chemicals—and retaining the good, like moisture, keeping skin soft and smooth. According to a 2013 study published in the journal Cancer Management and Research (CMR), when this barrier is compromised, common chemotherapy reactions may negatively impact patient quality of life. Side effects include hair loss (one of the most commonly known chemotherapy side effects), paronychia (infections in nail beds), folliculitis (skin rash), xerosis (dry skin), pruritus (itchy skin), hyperpigmentation (discoloration), and hand and foot erythema (pain, redness, and swelling on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet).
Radiation can cause redness, pain, and swelling on the radiated area, or in more severe cases, moist desquamation, a condition where the skin thins and begins to weep, essentially creating a wound which becomes highly susceptible to infection. Some reactions can be so severe that oncologists may recommend stopping treatment: “These reactions may lead to dose reduction or discontinuation of therapy, which could be detrimental to the outcome of treatment,” the CMR article states.
Pharmaceutical (prescription drug) recommendations exist to help treat negative symptoms, but there are no established guidelines “for the choice or use of derma-tological skin care products for oncology patients,” says CMR. The journal referenced a team of oncologists about best skin care practices during cancer treatment, and found benefit in maintaining good hygiene and proper hydration. And the earlier these routines are established, the better. “Early education and continued encouragement throughout treatment […] contributes significantly to better management of symptoms,” says CMR.
The burgeoning clean beauty industry means more products than ever before are available for those who need to avoid the toxic ingredients in conventional beauty products, but it is brands founded by individuals who have been personally touched by cancer that are creating the finest formulations for cancer warriors.
Karen Ballou, founder of Immunocologie, creates products for people with all skin types. “I formulate for all skin conditions—before cancer, during cancer, and after cancer,” she says. A cancer survivor herself, Ballou became inspired after being diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma.
“We’re always talking about, eat the green vegetables for your immune system, drink your vitamin C for your immune system, and the only area where we’re not doing that is for the largest organ of our body, which is skin.” With health in mind, Immunocologie products are gentle enough for cancer patients and effective enough for the average consumer—all of their products are formulated with green clay, which is naturally hydrating, soothing, and anti-inflammatory, while also removing impurities.
cW-approved: Tamanu & Helichrysum Scar Repair—this serum features blue tamanu and helichrysum, two ingredients that work together to reduce the appearance of scars and brighten skin. With regular use, we noticed significant improvements in old scars.
This makeup line is the brainchild of sisters Sarah and Leah. When Sarah was diagnosed with stage III breast cancer, she joined forces with Leah, an oncology nurse, to get a better understanding of what the food we eat and the products we put on our bodies can do to our health. During chemotherapy, when Sarah needed a little beautifying pick-me-up, the idea for this chemical-free, safe, and natural makeup line was conceived.
cW-approved: Salmon Pink Lip Gloss—this ultra-hydrating lip gloss features coconut oil and shea butter to deliver shine without stickiness.
Skye Morland was first diagnosed with skin cancer at age 22. Despite excellent sun-safety habits, Morland was told she would most likely experience new skin cancers for the rest of her life. This was when she started researching topical nutrition to help ward off cancer. With the help of her father, a Mayo-clinic trained doctor and researcher, Morland developed a line of skin care filled with “nutrient rich oils and extracts” to keep her skin healthy. Thanks to her all-natural products, Morland has been cancer-free for 10 years.
cW-approved: Vitality Face Oil—this oil is fatty-acid balanced to penetrate deeply and feed every layer of the skin; it’s nutrient-rich and works like a “topical multivitamin” for your face.